Over the past few weeks I’ve heard the “Magic 30%” number tossed around on two different occasions in terms of the training load that maximizes power production, so I figured it was time to write an article on this topic. The theory is that we should train athletes with explosive movements at 30% of their 1RM because this is the load that shows the highest peak power outputs and therefore this load will maximize the athletes’ power production and athleticism.
This line of reasoning is faulty for several reasons, but first, let’s look at the research. I’ll state up front that the research is very complicated due to the fact that sometimes “mean power” is used, sometimes “peak power” is used, and sometimes just “power” is used. Different equations and methods are also used in determining max power. Calculations sometimes incorporate bodyweight and sometimes they do not. Different types of movements are employed, for example free weight squat jumps versus machine squat jumps. And finally, different types of subjects are used…various ages, genders, training statuses, types of athletes, levels of strength, etc., which complicates matters as well.
That said, it’s still very valuable to analyze the research. Here are some quick findings on a spectrum of different studies.
Peak power output – 80% of 1RM for hang power clean, no significant difference from 40-90%.
Peak power output at 30% of 1RM for ballistic bench throw and 0% (just bodyweight) for squat jump.
Peak power at 80% for Power Clean and Snatch.
Peak power for Bench throws at 55%.
Peak power for hang power clean at 80%, no significant differences from 40-90%.
Peak power for jump squat at 55-59%, no significant differences from 47-63%.
Peak power at 21.6% for jump squat.
Peak power for leg press at 56-78%.
Peak power for Squat at 50-70%, peak power for bench press at 40-60%.
Peak power at 30-45% for bench press, peak power at 60-70% for half squat.
Peak power at 30-60% for split jump squat, peak power at 50-70% for squat.
Low load explosive training appears better than high load explosive training for power.
Olympic lifting seems better than powerlifting for power.
No difference between strength trained and power trained for netball throw velocity.
Combined strength and power training appears better than just power training.
Power training appears no better than heavy training for sprint speed.
Squat jumps at lighter and heavier loads not well correlated with acceleration.
It appears that each exercise has its own unique range of loading for peak power production, and often the range is pretty broad. The “Magic 30%” figure just doesn’t hold up. Furthermore, individual peak power production can vary considerably from one person to the next, so it’s unwise to generalize and assume that an individual falls in the norm when their anthropometry, physiology, anatomy, etc., could cause them to stray from the norm.
There is mixed and inconclusive evidence on which loads maximize athletic performance indicators (as well as mixed research on what load maximizes peak power for the various lifts). The best load is most likely specific to the individual and could have much to do with the individual’s “weak link.” For example, if they’re weak but pretty elastic perhaps you should try to get them strong, and if they’re strong but not explosive, perhaps you should focus on power and reactive strength.
It’s important to consider the fact that squatting and jump squatting motions aren’t biomechanically similar to sprinting so the correlation with advanced athletes may be relatively weak. Power is just one quality; there’s also speed, agility, endurance, skill, strength, etc. In sports, there are many different force-velocity relationships, so it’s wise to pay attention to different types of strength and loads. It appears that combined training and training with mixed loads is superior to uni-dimensional training and training at a single load. Some lifts lend themselves better to heavy lifting and some lifts lend themselves better to explosive lifting…perhaps it’s best to just train squats and bench press heavy, Olympic lifts relatively heavy (which means explosively), jump squats a little lighter and more explosively, and use sprints, plyos, and ballistics for the primary “rapid stimulus.” This ensures that you hit all the points on the force-velocity curve.
Finally, variety and periodization are important considerations in program design. With the many types of plyometrics, ballistics, sprint drills, towing drills, explosive lifts, and heavy lifts, there’s no reason to stick with solely one load (as a percentage of 1RM) indefinitely.